Friday, October 21, 2011

From the October 19 issue of The Oxford Journal

Our phone stopped working late on a Saturday afternoon. We reported it the next day by using my in-laws’ phone and were told “there was a pattern” in our neighbourhood and we weren’t the only report of phones not working. This made my in-laws’ phone an oasis of dial tone in the middle of a wasteland of ringers gone silent.
By the time we went to bed on Sunday night at ten o’clock, the phones still were not working. I try not to be cynical, try not to see anti-rural intentions in everything but I wonder: If this had happened in the city or a large town, if a hundred households had been affected and not merely ten, would we have gone more than 24 hours without phone service?
Last winter, we awakened in the middle of the night to discover a fire in our flu. As we leaped out of bed and pulled on clothes, my husband said to me, “Call 9-1-1.” I automatically reached for the phone. For most of us over the age of 30, when we are inside a house, the automatic reaction is to reach for the home phone. When you call 9-1-1 from a house, your name and location is registered; no matter how to react in  crisis (I tend to freeze), you know that by using that phone, someone knows where to send the help you need.
In a real fire, if I had picked up the phone to find it dead, would I have had the presence of mind to think ‘cell phone’, to locate my husband’s in the dark while trying to gather together the dog and cat and my mother who was sleeping upstairs? If my brain shuts down and I can’t operate on habit, I’m in trouble. 
This phone habit is more than just a link to friends and family, the vet and take-out pizza; it’s a life-line. On that peaceful Sunday without the phone ringing, what if my mother had fallen down the stairs? What if I had? What if my husband had fallen off the garage roof again - and this time, I’d noticed? Although our voicemail would pick up messages, not hearing a dial tone when I picked up the receiver out of  habit to make a call had me pondering the bigger, scarier picture. 
Going more than 24 hours without a working phone because we have the good fortune/bad sense to live in the country is a greater disconnect than we deserve. Perhaps the isolation experienced by rural dwellers, who may not receive decent cell phone coverage, should classify phone service as an essential service. 
Take it from me: the only thing better than hearing a dial tone when you jam that receiver against your ear is hearing a voice tell you that fire trucks are on the way, now get out of the house.

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